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- by  Tallahassee Democrat

From the Tallahassee Democrat on 12-5-21:

By Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

Of Florida’s many assets, one of the most important is our outstanding state university system, ranked No. 1 in the nation for the fifth consecutive year. Our public higher education system meets employers’ need for talent that will pioneer innovations to overcome our most challenging problems.

As Florida’s official honors college, New College of Florida, a top-five public liberal arts college, plays a unique role in that mission. In a higher education system organized for large-scale delivery—campuses of 20,000-plus students in lecture halls filled with hundreds of students—New College offers an important alternative for students who learn best at a small, residential college.

But it isn’t simply our small classes and low faculty/student ratio that produce the next generation of innovators, problem solvers and entrepreneurs. Students here don’t wait for their senior year to conduct research or explore their futures. Students are paired with career coaches from their first semester, and our individualized, hands-on curriculum allows students to tackle our state’s and nation’s greatest challenges—all from day one.

Whether they are exploring causes of red tide or creating art and theatre exploring the social impact of the pandemic, New College students focus on innovative solutions for the future—theirs and ours.

More than anything else, New College students explore their passions and learn how to face unfamiliar challenges. Because we don’t offer a cookie-cutter education, we attract students who are willing to take risks and who are willing to do the hard work to bring their ideas to life.

And we do so by providing one of the most affordable educations in Florida. Unlike the $75,000 that many private liberal arts colleges charge, New College’s in-state tuition and fees, including room and board, are around $17,000, and 99 percent of our students earn merit- and/or need-based financial aid. Almost 60 percent of our students graduate without any debt, well above the national average.

Given our spirit of innovation, it is no surprise that New College continues to produce highly successful entrepreneurs.

Consider Norm Worthington, who founded Star2Star in a Sarasota garage in 2006. Earlier this year, he sold his cloud communications services and software firm for $437 million. Norm once told a group of New College students: “If I’d gone to a more conventional school, I don’t know if this entrepreneurial urge of mine could have taken root and flowered.”

He’s not alone. New College graduates have launched companies all over Florida, from a Sarasota environmental consulting company and a Tampa marketing and video content company to a Tampa deep-ocean exploration company and the Miami-based start-up that produced an app that Apple named “Best of 2020.”

New College’s philosophy of education is one that supports entrepreneurship by encouraging a willingness to do things differently, embrace risk-taking, and find opportunities for collaboration.

And while we won’t produce the highest volume of graduates, the students we educate may be among those most likely to change the world.

Florida benefits from having such a compact but mighty laboratory in its university system.

Patricia Okker, Ph.D. is president of New College of Florida.